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Then there’s the time Petra found out my age. My exact age.

I was telling her how this was the first spring, the first one I could remember anyhow, I hadn’t been sitting in a classroom, staring out the window and counting down the days left in my prison sentence, the days until summer vacation. We were into July and it’d come without the countdown and the big day of getting out of school. We were right into summer. It was too easy. A freebie.

She looked at me very still, like I was saying something important.

“It’s not worth thinking about that much,” I said. “Just feels a little funny.”

She asked if I’d ever repeated a grade in school.

“I came close once cause I flunked a chemistry exam. I never got science. Like it had nothing to do with me, you know?”

Did I ever miss a year out of sickness?


And my birthday was in August?


Then, if this has been my first year out of high school, how could I be twenty? I finished school when I was eighteen. This is exactly one year later. Making me nineteen now, turning twenty next month.


I had said I was twenty going on twenty-one.

“Going on twenty.”

That was not what I’d said.

“I never said anything. You’re the one said I must be turning twenty-one.”

But I had let her think it, she said. Her voice was flat, her eyes drilling me.

“What is this? You wouldn’t be with me if you knew I was only nineteen? One year difference?”

“That’s not the point,” she said.

“So what’s the big deal?”

“The big deal is you lied to me, Mark.”

It was only at that moment my vagueness about my age came together in my mind as a lie.

“Not so much,” I still said.

“You misled me.”

She turned away. And I wanted her eyes back even if they were drilling me. She was leaving the room.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

That brought her back. I think it was that.

She sat down again and stared at me. Parts of my insides were melting and melding together. I hardly heard her. “... been through this shit before ... social relations based on deception ... the principle....”

I tried to keep my eyes on her eyes but they were weak and slipping all over her. She was fiery hard and strong, lashing out with her fierce logic and fairness. And between the fiery hard and strong places I could sense softness. I could feel her soft places tingling under my palms like my hands were running over them now and I wanted her worse than ever.

She stopped. “You’re hopeless.”

“I didn’t say anything.”

“All right, Mark, just promise me — no, we’ll promise each other — never to lie or deceive one another about anything again. Anything. No matter how ... how petty it may seem. Promise?”

I held up two fingers and put my other hand on my chest. “And promise to do my duty to God and the queen.”

“I warn you. I’m serious.”

“I promise. I promise.”

“We promise each other.”

I wanted us to put our arms around each other and head up the stairs but I was afraid to make the move.

She took my hands in hers, rested her forehead on them for a long time, then kissed them, straightened up and said goodnight. She had some studying to do, she said.

I knew that meant we wouldn’t be together that night. Nothing personal. She was gonna sit in her room reading her political books until she fell asleep. She’d done it before. Like she was studying for a test in school. Just what she did. Politics. And I’d have to get through tomorrow before being with her again. Probably tomorrow night. I listened to her going upstairs.

I sat alone, then I went out on the porch with Billy and Picket. I couldn’t follow what they were on about. I knew one thing. I was never gonna try fooling Petra again.

Then I had to go make things worse. I had to go inside, up to her room and tell her I loved her.

She was sitting on her piece of foam, propped against the wall, a book open on her lap, pencil in hand, when I told her. She didn’t reply to my words like she was supposed to. She moved the book away and wiggled the pencil at me like an angry teacher to close the door and come over. Sit down on the other end of the foam bed.

“So tell me,” she said. “Where does that come from?”

What did she mean?

“Where did those words come from?”

I didn’t understand.

“Those words you just spoke.”

“It’s what I feel — I — You know, I go for you.”

“You go for me?”

“Not like you make it sound. What’s wrong with — I don’t mean —”

“So now you think rolling it into that big four-letter word makes it into something else. Something beyond caring and hard work and all the sweaty, picky, uncomfortable details that go into two people making it together. Love in a pop song. Love without content. I know. I’ve heard the words before. I’ve said them too.”

I wondered when. To who?

“It’s easy to say the words when they’re unattached to anything except making love. So-called. When you don’t have the right to say them yet. Unimpeded, untested love. What if I were sick or in serious trouble? Or living with me were a constant trial because I was involved around the clock in some heavy struggle?”

“What is your problem?” I asked. “You’d think I’d said something bad. You’re the one who raised the love shit in the first place.”

“True. Irrelevant but true.”

“And you’re involved around the clock in stuff,” I said and right away thought, oops, mistake. “What are we even arguing for?”

But it musta been the right mistake. She said softly, “This is nothing. Some revolutionaries never get to see the people they love for weeks, sometimes months or years.”

“Why are you saying this to me?”

“It’s ridiculous even talking about it to someone in your condition. I love you,” she said in a pretend desperate voice. “Hopeless. The blind certainty that everything will work out forever. I love, therefore everything. Therefore eternity.”

“I don’t —” I was gonna say I didn’t get it.

She patted my head. “It’s pointless trying to explain it to a young punk like you.” She kneeled on the floor behind me and put her arms around me. “Nineteen-year-old punk.”

“I’ll be a big boy soon.”


“I’ll be big and rich and famous someday and I’ll shoot all the bad guys for you. All the counterrevolutionary bad guys.”

“My hero.” She squeezed me. “Now get out and let me work.”


Continued >



Part I





Part II





Part III






Part IV





Part V







Part VI







Part VII















Part IX



Part X